“My country, right or wrong.”
-Carl Schurz, 13th Secretary of the Interior
Patriotism used to be so easy. Until recently, consumer product companies could express patriotism without upsetting citizens, and brands could even reap the rewards of waving a flag.
Once upon a time, Sony was a colossal brand and a celebration of Japanese ingenuity. Perrier was the quintessential symbol of the French lifestyle. Burberry emphasized its sensible British roots at every turn. Hershey’s, Heinz, and Harley-Davidson made us believe that to pop a Hershey’s Kiss in your mouth, pour Ketchup on a hotdog, or hop on your Harley bike, was an act of patriotism. Many companies even proudly displayed country flags on their packaging.
Today, companies navigate a minefield, and any expression of patriotism or country affiliation can quickly result in an increase in profits or a death spiral of losses. Political rancor in the U.S., instability in the European Union brought on by BREXIT, military tensions in Asia. All of this adds complexity to the modern product manager's day.
Product managers, brand managers, and their CEOs are simultaneously challenged to express patriotism constantly, or risk being labeled disloyal. Yet they have to think of increasingly clever ways to remain neutral in the culture wars that rage inside their most important consumer segments.
We call it layered patriotism—and the Predicta AI platform provides a powerful tool to manage a brand or product’s three most important constituents:
Brand loyalists: the most steadfast customers
Brand activists: the activist public that controls your brand’s image in digital media
The general public
Listening closely to the digital voices of these constituents takes something more than a capable public relations firm. Artificial intelligence helps parse through the billions of signals from social media that relate to your brand, then figure out which ones you want to amplify or counteract. The modern product manager needs a robust AI-driven approach that no human can match, in order to move quickly on a course of action.
“We’ve seen some evidence of that lately, with very senior business leaders becoming more comfortable with political activities and some voices starting to be raised around these issues,” says Scott Kingdom, a Korn Ferry vice chairman and member of the firm’s CEO Services team. In some cases, the founders and CEOs themselves express their patriotism, or political ambitions, in ways that the product manager must react to.
In a layered patriotism strategy, the brand needs to hear the signals from millions of their diehard brand loyalists with statistical accuracy. Gut feelings are too sloppy, and your longest serving (or most influential) employees might have perspectives that are out of date. Once those signals are understood, the product manager needs to reflect those sentiments in the product itself, with new features, functions, and designs that motivate those diehard customers to convert their emotions into new purchases.
At the same, the product manager needs to hear the signals from the brand activists who have the power to make their products a symbol of social virtue, or a social pariah. Fake product reviews, social cause groups, search result ads and just plain old fake news reports, are all the tools that are used to celebrate or vilify a product they agree or disagree with, politically. Once a brand is surfaced in popular culture for standing up for, or remaining neutral about, an event or cause, the brand activists start digging for everything that might confirm or deny their conclusions. The product manager needs to consider this, sometimes with rapid product changes.
Case in Study - Yum Brands
Yum Brands provides a prime example of what AI could mean to product managers.
The company is headquartered in Kentucky, a conservative Republican stronghold, and supports the GOP aggressively. Yum is the parent of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut, which have a major customer base with Liberal Democratic consumers. Brand activists from animal rights, labor rights, and food labeling groups shadow the company on digital media 24 hours a day. Fresh competitive assaults from Panera, Lemonade, Blaze Pizza, Shake Shack and others continue to mount serious challenges. Demographic shifts brought dramatic change to the customer base, and the product planning process. The product manager needs AI to make sense of the millions of signals that any one KFC/Pizza Hut/Taco Bell product might generate on a daily basis.
AI is the future of product development
Product managers at trusted brands like Cabela’s have even more at stake than most consumer companies, which can win back defectors after a stumble in shorter cycles. Cabela’s archery equipment is a permanent, emotional purchase for consumers. The buyer is often a discriminating expert and stays loyal to the same product for years. When the brand loyalists sound off about a feature, they expect Cabela's to listen. The price of not doing so can mean the loss of a customer who it might take years to win back.
An AI-infused approach to monitoring consumer sentiment would help Cabela's see slight changes in the market. Maybe increasingly younger hunters will demand new functionality? Predicta would help the company identify latent consumer demands much earlier, and with greater clarity, reducing cycle time in product planning.
Cabela’s might express a specific type of Patriotism, let’s say an update to the tradition of father/son hunting expeditions, with new imagery of fathers and daughters. An AI like Predicta might sense high approval by brand loyalists, undetectable by the marketing department’s thin research staff. The product manager can spring into action with products designed for teen girls and women between 5’ and 5’7” tall while pulling together an ad campaign to start a new Father’s Day tradition of the Father/Daughter hunting trip. Between Veteran’s Day and March 1, they could develop and release a new product in the buildup to Father’s Day, a quintessentially American holiday.
This is how AI can immediately transform the product planning process from a passive guessing game into the driver of the business. A quick series of moves can add up fast by taking the guesswork out of what to offer next, resulting in real increases in profits.
Product managers can push the boundaries of patriotism, using love of country as an exploratory tool to figure out what resonates emotionally with their base. AI can help the product manager guide their brands like a campaign, altering their products with ever increasing sophistication to stoke their loyal base while addressing lucrative new segments of customers.
For more on how AI can help your product management process, contact us.